Tree & Shrub Planting And Care Guide
To download this information as a PDF, click here.
- When you get your order: Immediate Care
- Sweating Nursery Stock
- Choosing a Site for Fruit Trees and Berries
- Plant Spacing of Fruit Trees and Berries (chart)
- Fall Preparation or Spring Initial Feeding for Fruit Trees
- The Basics of Tree Care
- General Planting Directions for Trees and Shrubs
- Initial Pruning
- Pruning Fruit Trees
- Pruning Ornamental Shrubs, Trees and Berries
- Beware the Apple Borer!
- Protecting Trees from Mice and Voles
- Oh Dear, Deer!
- Aphids and Ants
- Apple Maggot and Plywood
- Scab and Chives
- Plum Curculio… and Garlic
When your new trees and plants arrive, they are breaking dormancy and need to be planted as soon as possible. Don’t be deterred by snow. If you can dig a shovel into the ground, plant your trees. If you wait until spring is in full swing, your plants will be stressed and have a hard time recovering. Sometimes frozen ground makes immediate planting impossible. When this is the case, follow the instructions below and all will be well. Why do we send plants even when there is snow on the ground? The weather may be fickle but we must be steady. We are dealing with bare-root trees that have to be moved out of storage and sent to their new homes in early spring. For our system to work, we must follow a tight shipping schedule regardless of regional weather conditions. We begin shipping around April 2 and finish around April 17, sending orders by climate zones, warmer zones first.
DO NOT ALLOW ROOTS TO DRY OUT AT ALL!!!
Trees & Shrubs: Planting Within 48 Hours
Leave the plastic wrapping around the root ball. Add some water to remoisten the packing material and store your trees/plants in a cool shaded place like a shed, barn or cellar. Avoid heat and sunlight.
Trees & Shrubs: If You Cannot Plant Within 48 Hours
You may keep plants for a week or two by following one of two temporary measures and continuing to water trees as they need it.
1) Open your package and inspect for damage. If roots or packing material are dry, water them. Re-wrap the plastic bag around the root ball, packing firmly to eliminate air pockets. Keep roots moist but do not allow puddles to form in the packaging. Keep the trees in a cool dark area, protected from the sun and freezing temperatures.
2) “Heel in” your plants in a protected spot that isn’t sunny or warm. You don’t want the plants to break dormancy. Dig a trench or turn back an appropriate amount of earth and bury the roots; tamp firmly to remove air pockets. Water thoroughly. Plant in permanent location as soon as possible.
Open up asparagus roots and store dry and uncovered in a cool shaded place.
Refrigerate strawberry plants until you are ready to plant them.
Open bags and check the stock immediately. Roots and crowns should be firm and pliable, not squishy or brittle. If they are slightly dry, add a little water, or, if they are going to be potted up soon, soak the roots. Generally, a little surface mold is harmless and will not affect the plant’s future performance. Pot up crowns and roots; do not plant directly outdoors. If you cannot pot the crowns up immediately, store them in a cool (35–40°) location for a short time. See page 68 for details.
Some trees and shrubs become extremely dormant during refrigerated storage. These include: Amelanchier (juneberry), Betula (birch), Cercis (redbud), Crataegus (hawthorn) and Quercus (oak).
Sweating nursery stock ensures breaking of dormancy. The easiest way to force any tree to break bud is to pot it and set it in a greenhouse or polyhouse. After the tree begins to leaf out, transplant it outdoors. If you don’t have a greenhouse, lay the trees in a shady place, 45–70°, such as a garage, basement, barn, greenhouse or outdoors in the shade. Cover the whole plant with very damp packing material (hay, newspaper, etc.) followed by a sheet of plastic. Sweating will take several days; check the buds every day. The trees are ready to plant when the buds begin to swell.
Warm May weather will give the best results. Until then, heel your trees in, or store them with roots covered in a cool barn or garage.top
The best sites for fruit crops have well-drained fertile soils, protection from wind, good air drainage and full sun. A gentle slope and 6–8 hours of full sun per day is ideal. Good air flow will moderate frosts and fungal disease. If possible, avoid “frost pockets.”
Sunny south- or west-facing slopes are not advisable for less hardy varieties. These slopes tend to warm up before the danger of frost has passed. Trees may flower prematurely and then be damaged by frost, causing loss of fruit. South and west slopes may also have widely fluctuating early spring temperatures that can damage less hardy trees.
Soil pH for fruit trees should be between 5.5 and 8.0, towards the lower end for apples, the higher end for peaches, and in the middle for others. Fruit species have optimal space requirements. See chart below.
Do not plant trees where power lines will interfere with them.top
|between plants||between rows|
|Nut trees - orchard||
|Nut trees - forest||
|Pears, Asian Pears||
If you’re interested in preparing locations for your trees this fall, or for feeding newly planted fruit trees, the following amendment recipe should address most sites in the eastern U.S., which tend to be acidic and moderate to low in calcium and phosphorus. You can apply this mix as a mulch to your newly planted tree in the spring. To order any of these products, refer to the Organic Growers Supply section of our Seed catalog or website.
Without digging the hole, cover an area 4–6' in diameter with:
5 lbs gypsum or Hi-Cal lime
5 lbs colloidal phosphate (short-term calcium and phosphorus)
5 lbs azomite (long-term minerals and trace minerals)
5 lbs granite meal (for improved soil texture)
2–3 lbs menefee humates (aids mineral and rock-powder breakdown)
For building high levels of humus, also add:
2 lbs alfalfa meal
2 lbs bone char or bone meal
2 lbs kelp meal
2 lbs blood meal
100 lbs compost (1/8 yard)
BioDynamic preps (optional)
Cover with a 3–4" mulch of lawn clippings, leaves or “brush” chips, which will smother the sod, conserve moisture, prevent leaching and provide a habitat for soil organisms to break down the recipe. In the spring, pull back the mulch and dig your tree hole, incorporating the mineral supplements and compost into the backfill.
Forgo the soil amendments and simply pile 1–2 wheelbarrow loads of compost on each planting-hole site. If you live by the ocean, add a couple of wheelbarrows of seaweed. Then cover with mulch. In the spring, pull back the mulch and plant your fruit tree, incorporating the compost into the hole as you dig.
Feeding older fruit trees
Cover the surface of the ground out to the drip line with the same materials listed above. For larger trees (five years and older) increase the mineral amount to 10–15 lbs each. For ancient trees you can use up to 25 lbs of each mineral in a ring beneath the drip line. Mulch as described above.
The basics of tree care outlined here are meant to get you going. Obviously, we can’t tell you everything you need to know in a few pages. Some specific information, like location or soil preferences of particular plants, is in the item descriptions. A soil test is useful in determining the specific needs of your site. Reading, observation, trial and error, and talking with other growers and with extension agents can expand your knowledge of trees and shrubs.
Consult the Fedco Seeds catalog’s book list for recommended reference books, or look for information online, including useful links at our website, fedcoseeds.com.top
- Dig a large hole, at least twice as wide and about as deep as the root system. Most roots grow laterally and need plenty of room to spread out. Your trees will benefit if the hole is at least 3' wide.
- Loosen up the soil at the bottom of the hole and especially around the sides. For fruit trees, if you haven’t used a deluxe fall preparation, you may add a 3-lb bag of our planting mix (available from the Organic Growers Supply section of the Fedco Seeds catalog), or well-aged compost and mineral fertilizers like rock phosphate or azomite, but not manure or other nitrogen sources.
- Replace the topsoil around the roots where it will do the most good.
If you situate non-fruit trees according to their requirements, there is no need to add any supplements to your soil. This is the best way to ensure that your plants will thrive for many years.
For best results, plant on cool cloudy days in the early morning or late afternoon. Soak deciduous trees and shrubs for up to 24 hours before planting. Keep the roots from drying out; even a few minutes in the sun and breeze can kill a tree or shrub. Keep them in a bucket of water as you plant.
Generally, you should plant trees and shrubs at the same depth that they grew in the nursery. You should be able to see a “dirt line” or a change in bark color indicating nursery depth. Spread the roots out as you set the trees in the holes. Make a mound at the bottom of the hole over which to spread the roots. Give your trees plenty of water to “puddle in” as you plant. Wiggle the trunk as the water seeps in to ensure that the roots are settled in with no air pockets. Leave a berm around each tree so water will seep in and not run off. Keep them well watered throughout the first summer. They require the equivalent of 1–2" rain per week. A good soaking is effective; sprinkling is not.top
Prune dead or injured branches and roots on all trees and shrubs. Further pruning of most trees is not necessary at planting time. Do not prune tops or prune or bend tap roots of nut trees. General information on pruning on pp. 42 and 48. Conifers (p. 49), roses (p. 53) and lilacs (p. 56) benefit from special pruning.top
Avoid pruning young trees except to establish a basic shape, as it delays bearing. On apple and pear trees, leave the central leader alone and let it grow. It’s okay to cut off extra trunks and large branches. Always remove suckers or root shoots from fruit trees. On peaches and plums, the trees may want to develop 2–4 leaders, or an open-vase shape. Always prune just above a good strong bud that faces a direction you’d like your plant to grow.
Pruning your new standard or semi-dwarf apple tree
Standard and semi-dwarf (Bud 118 and M111) apple trees will almost always benefit from pruning when first planted, to establish the long-term basic shape for the tree. Then refrain from pruning until the tree begins to fruit. Every time you prune potential leaf-bearing branches from a young tree, you set it back. The tree will grow quickly and fruit sooner if you allow it to maximize photosynthesis. Once it begins to fruit, then you prune it annually.
Year one: If the tree is a branch-less “whip,” cut the top back to a strong bud about 3–4' high. This will force branching at that level. This will eventually be your first tier of branches. The lowest scaffold (branch layer) should be very wide to collect as much sun as possible. If too low, these long branches will rest on the ground under the weight of fruit, and the deer will have a field day. Also, it becomes difficult to mow, mulch, etc.
If the new tree arrives with branches, prune off all but 3–4 branches at the height you’d like for your first tier, also at about 3–4', or higher if you prefer.
Year two: Trim off root suckers or other odd branches that come up from around the base. Otherwise, leave the tree be and let it grow.
The next few years: If something looks really crowded, broken or dead, prune it. Otherwise, leave your tree alone and let it grow. If you don’t fuss over it too much, you’ll get fruit sooner!
Once your fruit tree begins to bear you will want to prune annually. Good pruning brings sunlight to all parts of your tree. Maximum sunlight encourages more and higher-quality fruit. Sunlight also encourages fruit buds to form for next year’s crop. A well-pruned tree will produce larger fruit and will tend toward more annual bearing. Good pruning discourages fungal diseases and promotes greater spray penetration. There’s an old saying that a bird should be able to fly through your fruit tree.
Most pruning should be done in late winter or early spring. We recommend a good-quality pair of hand shears and a lightweight pruning saw. You may also wish to invest in long-handled loppers, a pole pruner or a pole saw. Keep your pruning tools sharp for smooth, clean cuts.
Any good book on growing fruit trees will have the information you need. Consult old and new books as well as orcharding articles and develop a system that works for you. Pruning is not difficult and will make a huge difference.top
- Rejuvenation: older canes (three years and older) can be cut off at the ground line each year to encourage the growth of new canes.
- Health: remove broken, dead or diseased branches for neatness and vigor and to increase airflow and access to sunlight.
- Vitality: prune to encourage better blooms and fruit rather than heavy excessive vegetation. Many shrubs send up new vegetative growth from the terminal bud. Pruning the terminal bud redirects the plant’s energy back to some of the lateral flowering and fruiting buds.
- Containment: certain varieties sucker from the roots; remove these suckers unless you want the shrub to spread and form colonies.
- Shape: if you desire a tall tree with a high crown, prune the lateral branches from the trunk and prevent formation of low crotches. For a low stocky tree used in screens and windbreaks, cut back the top shoots to force side growth. Retain natural arching habits and prevent the shrub from becoming top-heavy by pruning branches after flowering.
Keep weeds and especially grass away from new trees and shrubs. Apply a 2–4" mulch of composted material, leaves, wood chips or hay out as far as the drip line. A 1/2–1" topdressing of alfalfa meal beneath the mulch may substantially reduce transplant shock. Keep mulch back several inches from the tree trunk. We lay down cardboard or newspaper and spread mulch on top of it. Mulch encourages earthworms, holds moisture, keeps down weeds, insulates against excess heat and cold, aerates and loosens soils, builds humus and fertilizes feeder roots, 90% of which are within 6" of the surface.top
Newly planted standard-sized fruit trees and ornamental trees seldom need staking. Semi-dwarf trees may require staking. If your tree is in a very windy site or develops a leaning habit, staking may help. Drive a stout post near the tree. Wrap the tree trunk with a scrap of burlap or rubber to protect against abrasion. Secure the wrapped part of the tree to the post with string or wire. Tie tree somewhat loosely, as a slight rocking motion will encourage rooting. Once roots are well anchored, the stake may not be needed. Mark small trees with a stake with ribbons to warn operators of lawn mowers, tractors, cars, skidders and skateboards.top
In many parts of central and northern New England the roundheaded appletree borer, Saperda candida, is the number one enemy of young apple, crabapple and quince trees. If you are growing young apple trees in these locations, you must protect your trees from this pest. Farther south and north the borer may not be a pest. If you don’t know if they are a problem in your area, check with any grower near you: they’ll know. Otherwise, err on the side of caution. The borer does not endanger other fruit trees or ornamentals.
Borer beetles lay eggs under the bark near the base of the tree. The developing larvae tunnel through the wood, eventually weakening the tree until it falls over. The trouble sign is small deposits of orange sawdust, called frass, at the base of the tree, usually appearing in June or July. Locate the hole or soft spot in the trunk and insert a wire until you locate and kill the larvae. Cut away soft, spongy pockets with a knife. Even serious carving is less harmful to the tree than leaving the larvae alive inside. Left unchecked, borers usually mean death for your trees.
When you discover a soft spot or hole in the tree, get yourself a can of compressed air (for cleaning computers). Put the long skinny tube nozzle up to the hole and give it a blast. Should do the trick.
The Polyculture Deterrent
Borer beetles thrive in shady moist warm environments. Keep grass back at least 6" from the tree base. Trials in our “functional” orchard (see page 14) suggest that a mixed polyculture environment may disguise the apple trees and fool the borers. We plant woody and herbaceous perennials around the trees, keeping them back 12" or so. Borers are lazy opportunists. If there are a lot of apple trees within easy reach, they will attack. Otherwise, you may never see them. The polyculture orchard may present too much work for them. So far, we’ve been able to keep this orchard clear of borers with no painting. (See below.)
Paint the trunks
Painting is likely the best deterrent. I’ve tried a number of recipes and this is my favorite. It’s easy and requires no hard-to-find ingredients. Mix white interior latex paint with joint compound. (The stuff you smear on sheet rock joints and nail holes—you can buy a small tub at any hardware store. Some exterior paint formulations contain ingredients that can harm the underlying phloem.) The consistency should be thick but still quite easy to paint, not glob on. Repaint as needed. This mix will help deter borers and also make detection of infestations easier. Look for the frass!
We are experimenting with a borer-protection formula using more benign ingredients. It doesn’t last or adhere as well as the paint-joint compound mixture, but it appears to work fairly well.
2 qt quick lime
4 gal milk
1 gal boiled linseed oil
Mix well. Thicken as needed with clay or Surround (available in the Organic Growers Supply section of the Fedco Seeds catalog). Apply with a paint brush. Reapply as needed.top
Fruit trees and ornamentals are sometimes girdled by mice or voles eating the bark. Girdling will usually kill the tree or shrub. The danger is greatest in winter. Keep the grass mowed in the fall and remove large mulch piles from near the trunks. Rodents like to nest in hay more than in chip mulches. A wrap of window screening or a plastic spiral tree guard will protect your tree from being girdled. If you use screening or plastic spiral tree guards on apple, quince or crabapple trees, remove them from April to October, as they attract borers if left on the tree in the summer. You can leave plastic spiral tree guards on most other trees year-round.
Our trials show that a mulch of wood chips surrounding young trees greatly reduces the chance of summer vole damage. Tall grasses invite them in. The polyculture model may provide cover for the voles and can result in summer vole damage. Keep the tall perennials back about 12" from the tree. Make your orchard hawk friendly.
Voles Don’t Like Narcissus!
For many years we’ve been planting daffodils around the base of some of our apple trees. No particular reason; it just looks great. Come to find out that you can beautify your orchard and deter voles at the same time. Plant daffodils in a circle a foot or two away from the base. The tunneling voles don’t like the bulbs and will veer away.
We don’t have the super-destructive pine voles in our orchard—whether or not the bulbs would deter them, we don’t know. We’re continuing our trials in Massachusetts where the pine voles are a big problem.top
The best deer protection is a collie in the yard. If you don’t have a dog or if your orchard is too far from the house, an 8' sheep fence will work. Some people have good luck with electric fences. Small protective fence enclosures can be made by circling your tree with a cylinder of chicken wire or other fencing.top
Aphids can do a lot of damage to apple trees and they make the young leaves look gross. Whenever you see aphids you will see ants climbing up and down the tree feeding them. Here’s an easy solution. Wrap a piece of stiff paper about 6" wide around the trunk about a foot or two off the ground. Tape this “sleeve” to itself but not to the tree. Smear Tanglefoot on the paper. Ants will not cross the barrier and, without the ants, the aphids will die. In a day or two no more aphids.top
Maine grower Don Johnson has been making nifty apple maggot traps for the past few years. We’ve gotten into doing so ourselves. In small orchards, the traps alone may be enough to reduce the AM pressure to a tolerable level. Here’s how: Cut up plywood (3/8" or 1/2") into 8" x 11" rectangles. Drill a hole along the top edge. Paint the plywood bright yellow with a 2–3" red spot (the apple) in the center. Coat with Tangletrap and hang three in each tree in mid-June, positioning the traps at about chest height. Trim away any foliage that might stick to the trap. Check for AM flies. Scrape the traps off now and then and add new Tangletrap when they get too gooky. Remove traps around Labor Day.top
Scab is the worst fungal disease affecting apples in New England. You can greatly reduce scab pressure by avoiding McIntosh, Cortland, Fameuse and any “Mac” relatives. But this is a tough call since they are all excellent varieties. You can also reduce scab pressure by picking up drops, cleaning up or mowing fallen foliage in the fall, and spreading a thin bit of lime and/or compost over the fallen foliage in the fall. Now there are reports that planting chives around apple trees will reduce scab pressure. We’ve been doing so and will give you a report before long. At the very least, we’ll have plenty for our cottage cheese, salads and baked potatoes.top
Plum curculio is a terrible plum and apple pest. Many organic growers spray Surround clay powder on their trees to combat this weevil. Many years ago we planted garlic near one of our apple trees and neglected to harvest all the bulbs. Now we have a small colony of garlic plants around the tree. Recent reports are touting garlic as a curculio deterrent. Anecdotal evidence suggests the garlic may be working at our place. Plant more garlic!